UN General Assembly recognizes the human right to a healthy environment

In an historic vote on 28 July, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly recognized the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Franciscans International welcomes the support of 161 States for this resolution, which affirms that a healthy environment is indeed a human right that should be protected and guaranteed to all without discrimination. This is an important step toward stronger international and domestic efforts to help preserve the environment worldwide. 

“The universal recognition of a clean, healthy and sustainable environment provides a powerful and effective response that we hope will catalyze transformative changes in our societies, including by generating a paradigm shift of what our relationship to the environment and ecosystems should be,” said Ambassador Maritza Chan Valverde of Costa Rica, who introduced the resolution. She also expressed the hope that the universal recognition will contribute to improving environmental outcomes for States that have already enshrined this right in their domestic legislation and will provide a starting point for constitutional and legislative changes in States that have not. 

With its decision the General Assembly also reaffirmed an October 2021 resolution by the UN Human Rights Council, which first formally recognized this right at an international level. However, with the General Assembly being the only UN organ in which all Member States have equal representation, today’s vote carries additional significance. 

“This decision is truly historic. However, it is also long overdue and comes at a time when all warning signs are on red and we are quickly running out of options to avert a global environmental catastrophe,” said Sandra Epal-Ratjen, FI’s International Advocacy Director. “It is now undeniable that the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right that should be enjoyed by all. After this vote, all States must commit to its realization.”

The recognition of the right to a healthy environment comes after a long and sustained international advocacy campaign by broad coalitions and follows calls by over 1.350 civil society organizations, indigenous peoples, social movements and local communities. The decision by the General Assembly also sends a strong message confirming that the struggle for environmental justice is indeed a human rights struggle. 

FI will continue to work closely with Franciscans and other partners around the world advocating for the full and concrete implementation of this right as the basis for more just and effective environmental policies.